Dutch Elections: Is Populism Dead?
The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has defeated the anti-EU, anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders. No populist insurgency, at least for now. But this is no victory for democracy either, despite Rutte’s statement: "What a celebration it was for democracy today." Let’s not ignore Wilders’ tweet which clearly shows that more than one million people voted for his Party of Freedom (PVV). Game is not over yet.
For the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, there’s no difference between the two. He said, “You look at the social democrats and the fascist Wilders, there is no difference, they have the same mentality.” Maybe not quite, but they're not that far apart. Wilders’ far-right populist agenda won him a centre-stage on international media, but didn’t seduce the Dutch voters.
Later this afternoon, party leaders will be meeting to discuss how the coalition will be shaped. This can be a lengthy process that can last for months. Rutte’s VVD has got 33 seats while Wilders’ PVV came second with 20 seats. Rutte has vouched not to form any coalition with Wilders, so the other possible parties will be the Christian Democrats and the D66 parties with 19 seats each. Still, another party would be needed to form a majority. The biggest winner of the elections was the GreenLeft which increased its seats from 4 to 14. It could now be one of the coalition partners. Many commentators have said that the rise of the GreenLeft appears to have offered an alternative path to those disaffected voters who could no longer identify with established parties or far-right populists.
The secretary general of France’s far-right National Front, Nicolas Bay, said that Wilders’ winning more votes “It’s a real success.” However, French president, François Hollande, said it was a “clear victory against extremism”. British politicians from all parties were relieved with Geert Wilders’ failure. Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston tweeted: “The Dutch have ditched the far right. Great news” and Lib Dem Tim Farron said: “Well done to our liberal allies @VVD and @D66 in Dutch elections. Looks like a victory for liberalism over politics of fear and division.” Others have mourned the demise of the Dutch Labour party, 1960-2017, which fell from 38 seats to nine, and might be excluded from the coalition.
It appears that Wilders’ failure falls on the shoulders of Marine Le Pen, who is now considered to have lost the momentum that Wilders’ possible win would have given her. Investors are, for example, buying European government bonds, particularly French debt, because they see Le Pen’s position weakening in the run to May’s French elections. But then, after Wilders’ “disappointing” defeat, French voters might feel more strongly about populism.
Dutch political system: How does it work?
There are 150 MPs in the Dutch government, so the next government, usually a coalition, will have to get 76 seats. In recent years, there has been a declining interest in the three established parties: the left wing PvDA (Labour party, social-democrats), the centrist CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal, Christian-democrats) and the right-wing VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, liberal). This was remedied with the birth of many smaller parties, at least 28, with 14 of them predicted to win votes.
19 years ago, Wilders was an MP with the liberal party VVD, then he became an independent before moving on to form the PVV in 2006. From the beginning, Wilders has defended an anti-Muslim rhetoric, preaching the “dominance of the Judeo-Christian tradition” within Dutch politics. He embodies the Netherlands’ anti-Islam, anti-EU populism and has compared himself to Trump. The obvious similarities, of course, are their shared love for provocative tweets and unnatural choice of hair dye. Beyond that, at least Wilders can claim 19 years’ maturity in politics, unlike Trump’s zero experience. According to Der Spiegel, his older brother, Paul, described a young Geert as “a horrible pest, egocentric and aggressive”. When he joined the liberal VVD party and became an MP in 1998, he became famous with a plan “to cut benefits for people on long-term sick leave with psychiatric issues.”
Wilders’ manifesto for yesterday’s election is one page long. The majority of the page is occupied by negativity and bile against “Islam” and “radical Muslims”. The first point of the manifesto refers to the Netherlands’ “de-Islamisation” with eight propositions of how the party will achieve this. According to the manifesto, the “de-islamisation” will cost €7 billion, and it will be achieved with such actions such as closing all mosques, banning the Koran—which he has compared to Hitler’s Mein Kampf—closing down Islamic schools and barring Muslim immigrants.
What happens next?
The Netherlands TV presenter, Roderick Veelo, has taken a more cautious stance than the majority of politicians and reporters across the world who were quick to congratulate Rutte. Writing on RTL Z, Veelo said that populism hasn’t gone away and the new coalition government would have to be courageous and take the right steps to move on. He said:
“Responsibility – the willingness to steer the country through difficult times – seems to be the Achilles heel of the PVV [Geert Wilders’ Freedom party] … Wilders’ lack of responsibility broke into the campaign on the final weekend with the diplomatic row with Turkey. With perhaps the most energetic move of his career, Rutte put Wilders in checkmate. Rutte showed courage and leadership in a very difficult matter of national importance, and for potential PVV voters became a better choice than Wilders … Rutte is still standing, but so too is the social discontent about uncontrolled immigration, failed integration and the power of Brussels. This dissatisfaction is not going away.
The broad coalition that will govern this country soon must show responsibility and courage on these subjects and go to work with real solutions. Only when that happens will the populist revolt die a quiet death.”